EDGEWATER — Senn High School was recognized as an Illinois Democracy School by the Illinois Civic Mission Coalition this week for its work in providing students with "authentic experiences in the rights, responsibilities and tensions inherent in living in a constitutional democracy."
Schools must apply for the award, and then pass a "rigorous" assessment that looked at the institution's "commitment to working toward fostering positive school climates, curriculum and engagement opportunities that prepare students to be effective citizens," according to Chicago Public Schools.
The designation is given to "exemplary" schools across the state that engage students on civics topics through practices like debate, simulations, "controversial issue discussions" and service projects — experiences that give students a firsthand look at democratic processes in action.
Marty Galligan, a history teacher at Senn who also headed the school's application for the award, said some of the things that helped the high school stand out were a Student Voice Committee that has tackled issues like school lunches and uniforms, the Student Council's ongoing scholarship program for undocumented students and its youth theater ensemble The Yard.
Service-oriented learning has also been built into the school's curriculum: Freshman biology classes work with the Alliance for the Great Lakes to clean Kathy Osterman Beach every year and a junior-level American history class includes two large-scale governmental simulations and a freshman English class that partners with younger students in nearby feeder schools.
"We are thrilled to have this designation," Principal Mary Beck said.
The award also includes a $3,500 stipend for future civics projects and a school-wide assembly to celebrate. Senn's will be held at 8:45 a.m. Oct. 25, and will include remarks from students, staff and representatives of the Robert R. McCormick Foundation.
In addition to Senn, 5900 N. Glenwood Ave., Washington High School in East Side and Wells High School in West Town were also recognized.
Since 2006, only 67 schools in Illinois have received the award — nine of which, including these, have represented CPS.